Mystery donor pays Falun Gong fines

BBC News/August 22, 2002

An anonymous female benefactor in Hong Kong has paid off court fines imposed on 16 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement last week. The Falun Gong practitioners were refusing to pay the fines and were facing arrest.

The group had been convicted of causing an obstruction during a protest, but they said their convictions were unfair and are insisting they will still appeal against them.

The case was the first time criminal charges had been brought against members of the spiritual movement in Hong Kong.

The organisation is outlawed in China, but there are no laws against it in the former British colony.

Human rights organisations have expressed concern that the case could indicate an erosion of freedoms which were promised Hong Kong after Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Identity unknown

Hong Kong's government had already begun preparing warrants for the arrests of the 16 Falun Gong practitioners when the anonymous donor stepped in.

The benefactor, whose identity is not even known to the Falun Gong members themselves, paid $4,000 worth of fines that had been imposed on them last week.

A spokeswoman from the Hong Kong judiciary, Jaime Or, could only say that an unidentified woman had stepped forward with the cash.

"It could probably be a Falun Gong follower or a sympathiser who hoped to save the convicted followers from further suppression," Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said.

The 16, who included four Swiss followers, one from New Zealand and 11 from Hong Kong, were facing up to two weeks in jail for refusing to pay the fines.

They had been convicted of causing an obstruction during a protest outside Chinese Central Government Offices in the territory.

Political pressure

Mr Kan said Falun Gong appreciated the gesture but were still planning to appeal against the convictions.

The Falun Gong members say the trial and sentences were politically motivated and legally flawed.

They have accused Hong Kong's government of caving in to pressure from Beijing and deliberately targeting their group.

Before the trial, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa publicly labelled it an evil cult, repeating China's official view of the movement.

The BBC's Hong Kong correspondent Damian Grammaticas says there have been around 10,000 public protests in Hong Kong since it was returned to Chinese sovereignty.

But that Falun Gong is one a tiny number of groups that have had charges brought against them for staging demonstrations.

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